Western Standard: Residential Schools

Vanni Fucci
From the Western Standard:


Children of the Juggernaut Ric Dolphin
If Indian leaders and the government won’t save native kids from a life of despair, then maybe someone else should

The fun of being a pundit is the fun of an assassin who fears no retribution. We breeze out of our burrows, let loose a volley, and chuckling at the cleverness of it all, breeze back in. In our more pretentious moments, we’ll tell ourselves (and often others) how we serve the vital purpose of challenging conventional thought, skewering bloated shibboleths, et cetera; and that our endless outpourings of criticism are rendered in the constructive spirit of correction. But rarely do we actually provide any solutions beyond the extinction of the problem. In a nutshell: the emperor has no clothes, down with the emperor, thank you for reading and goodbye.

Happily for us, people have always enjoyed seeing emperors attacked, and we assassins are adequately rewarded and occasionally praised for the style with which we discharge our weapons. This encourages us to the point where we even believe we are shooting real bullets, despite the continuing habit of emperors to live their nude and happy lives.

Anyway, a couple of issues back, I took aim at Canada’s Indian industry and feel a need to follow up with a little constructivism to mitigate the guilt I feel at having blasted away at such an easy target.

As targets go, Canada’s Indian policy is like a barn wall at 10 paces. The situation for the majority of this country’s million-or-so Indians and Inuit is a national embarrassment informed by a grand fallacy, preserved by a multi-billion dollar payroll that undermines any real hope for a change in the status quo. I used the Labradorian Innu reserve of Natuashish to illustrate these points. Natuashish is a blatant example of everything that’s wrong with Indian policy: rampant substance abuse, family disintegration, corrupt band leadership, a federal government throwing millions of our dollars at the problem with no real benefit, and so forth.

Of course, Natuashish is just one of the more visible boils of the plague that infects much of aboriginal society in Canada. Most of the country’s other couple of thousand reserves present in similar ways. Talk to a social worker in one of Alberta’s oil-rich reserves, like those at Hobbema or Stoney, and you’ll hear the same sorts of stories of child neglect and abuse, suicide and despair.

Look at the off-reserve, inner-city populations of Edmonton, Saskatoon or Winnipeg, and you’ll discover similar symptoms with an added wrinkle: a burgeoning population of teenaged males who have adopted the baggy jeans and sideways ball caps, the obscene music, and the criminal aspirations of the American ghetto gangsta—cool bros doing the dirty work for their aging Hells Angels masters in Quebec mansions.

Pop up to Nunavut and you’ll discover a whole territory created on the dysfunctional tenets of Canada’s Indian policy, which can be reduced to the following simple formula: more money + more self government = greater despair.

Despite the caterwauling from the Phil Fontaines, the Paul Okaliks and other Ottawa-suckled native emperors, more “funding” for more “healing” has not solved the problem, cannot solve the problem. Natuashish should prove this once and for all.

I do not believe natives are intellectually inferior to non-natives. More than half of the native population is law-abiding and hard-working. It’s a little publicized fact that a far greater percentage of aboriginals are abstemious than are non-aboriginals.

Unhappily, the disproportionate percentage of social ills among natives tends to burden the community as a whole with a collective reputation—“drunken Indians,” “welfare bums,” et cetera—that doesn’t engender a lot of pride or confidence. And the reserve system, presided over by and elite of unaccountable chiefs and their clans, relegates the non-family-compact members to a state of dependency that would be familiar to citizens of the former Soviet Union. No one is allowed to freely own property, and the ruling class dispenses housing and welfare with a paternalism that would have impressed Stalin. Off reserve, the paternal role is taken up by the social workers and other government professionals whose proliferating presence works against any progress among natives in the direction of self-sufficiency.

In short, the prevailing culture becomes one of why bother, and what’s the use? The chiefs, Indian Affairs officials, and countless others in the Indian industry—concerned, as we all are, with the preserving their powers, and their salaries—know that the best way of maintaining the status quo is to maintain the culture of despair and dependency: you poor little Indians. So hard done by. Don’t worry; we’ll protect you. Trust us.

Indian leaders and the politicians and bureaucrats who shovel out the public funds are certainly not about to topple this ridiculous juggernaut. So who will help? The impetus will have to come from the aboriginal people themselves. I know from talking to certain iconoclasts among their population that not everyone ascribes to the official doctrine of victimology that has underpinned the Indian movement for the past two generations. I was recently talking to a Peigan youth worker from the southern Alberta reserve of Piikani, who voiced the sacrilegious opinion that residential schools did more good than harm. It was his opinion that the schools—which often removed children from horrible homes—produced citizens who appreciated the value of hard work and tended to be less inclined to the bad habits for which the community as a whole is known.

His comments were made with the understanding that his identity would not be revealed. The juggernaut does not take kindly to those who challenge the official position of the residential schools—despite much evidence to the contrary—were the worst thing since Auschwitz. He also had nice things to say about former Assembly of First Nations national chief Matthew Coon Come for speaking out against the drinking and smoking among his fellow AFN pooh-bahs, comments that ensured his defeat in the ensuing election.

The presence of these rebels is heartening. But they are timid and need moral support if they are ever to create a counterforce to the juggernaut. And it won’t come from the current Indian leadership or from governments. They are the juggernaut. Outside forces will be required.

I would suggest that it is time for business leaders to come to the fore. Business and Indians together should create a national organization whose mission will be to break the cycle of welfare dependency and self-pity, and replace it with means by which the natives can reclaim their pride and become fully functioning members of modern Canadian society.

Such means might include—avert your eyes now, all you juggernaut liberals—a new kind of residential school. Why not test it at Natuashish? Having spoken to a couple of social workers involved with a detoxification of gasoline-sniffing kids from Natuashish, along with a Mountie on the reserve, I heard an exaggerated version of a situation that is typical on most reserves. Substance abuse is rampant among the kids because it’s rampant among their parents. The parents were dropouts themselves and tend not to care if their children attend school, so the children tend to truancy. Since the state provides enough housing and social assistance payments to ensure a lifetime supply of sustenance and intoxicants without the necessity to work, there is no pecuniary incentive to academic devotion. Pastimes among the young include vandalism (the number one crime in Natuashish), throwing dogs off a cliff to watch them die, and listening to rap music while under the influence of gasoline, crack cocaine or rye. Suicide pacts among teens are a current craze.

One social worker I spoke to had vivid memories of a 15-year-old boy from Davis Inlet (the community the Indians lived in before being transferred to the brand new $350-million village of Natuashish), who had spent five months in a group home, drying out from gasoline. The boy, a tall, athletic hockey player and hunter who spoke little English, adapted well. He cried on the social worker’s shoulder the night before he was sent back to Labrador and his drunken parents. The social worker flew back with him to spend a couple of days at the community. The first thing he saw when he landed at the small airstrip was a sign with the large spray-painted letters “F--- You.” He remembers the boy’s father hadn’t bathed in decades and amused himself by driving his state-provided snowmobile around in circles in a field all day. Some weeks after the reunion, the boy hanged himself.

The social worker believes there is no hope for Natuashish’s young, short of pulling them out of the community and putting them in foster homes. I would propose that our newly formed organization of Indian leaders and mainstream business people—perhaps we’d call it the White Buffalo Institute, after the Plains Indian symbol of hope—build a boarding school near Natuashish instead.

It would be secular and founded on the principles of self-reliance, free enterprise, academic or vocational achievement, traditional outdoor skills, and sports. It would be staffed as much as possible by native teachers, would teach Indian history (without the undue influence of victimology that informs university-level native studies programs). Students would reside at the school during the week and have the option of returning to their homes on weekends. Discipline would be enforced, not through corporal punishment, but through withholding of privileges—such as playing on the hockey team.

The overarching purpose of the school, financed solely through private donation, would be to break the cycle of misery and turn out a new generation of leaders immune to the blandishments of the victim society. If successful, the White Buffalo schools might be duplicated across the country, providing hope that the suffocating juggernaut that has been the Indian industry to date might finally be exterminated once and for all.

First of all, I'd like to say that this article disgusted me, and demonstrates clearly that this moron has no clue whatsoever the effect that residential schools had, in continues to have, on the native community.

His contempt for the Assembly of First Nations, and the native people is evident throughout the article and his racist tone was not lost on me.

His Hegelian approach to the perceived problem is quite frightening, as it is commonly held that residential schools are in large part the root cause of the problems that the native community face today. That, and bigots like this Dolphin fellow.

The Anglican Church, and the residential school system, in yanking the kids from their homes for over 150 years, created an environment whereby over time the native community lost thier ability to parent, in that when the time came for them to be parents themselves, they had no experience to draw from. This is what led to the disintegration of the family that the author describes. The culture of despair that is seen on many reservations and inner-city communities are in part a result of this detachment from family.

The victims of the residential schools have not yet been compensated, and this f**k wants to start them back up again...

F**king Reformers...
Some people cant get past skin colour. They forget we are in 2005. They cant get their heads out of their ass and the past. All they care about is their own personnel greed and wealth at the expense of the less fortunate. Equality is not in their vocabulary. More needs to be done, they need more opportunities, better schooling, descent places to sleep and call home, etc. I also think the Department of Indian Affairs needs a complete over haul as well.

That writer in a f'n moron. But sounds an awful lot like the "bigots" that were in the former Reform Party and now Conservative party. These yahoo's have not one shred of human compassion and if it were up tp them there would be no Dept of Indian affairs, welfare or any social programs for anyone.


Discipline would be enforced, not through corporal punishment

That was a lot of the problem too, the way they used to beat natives who spoke their traditional language instead of english, and for any other reason they could think of (not to mention the sexual abuse) All in the name of "god" and "religion", what pricks, and people wonder why I am not a believer.
The worst thing about the residential schools was the enforced separation of children from their families. Ask any social worker,and they'll tell you that once a family is fractured (physically separate from one another),that family can never return to its' previous state. That family is weakened,less able to tolerate stresses,and more likely just to shatter.
The family(which is supposed to serve as the source of strength for a child) fails the younger members...and so begins a sorry story of repeat failures.
I'm not wise enough to know the answer...it's an issue for all communities,not just the native community.
Jo Canadian
The Residential school wounds are also fresh with friends of mine in Nunavut. After all it wasn't until the end of the 70's when they stopped the practice.

In a rush to establish "official" communities in the arctic during the cold war to prove Canada is using the land many families were torn to begin with taken from many different camps (mostly on the mainland) and then stuck farther up north where living is harder. First you throw the schools in. Each community had a school that in most cases went up to grade 9. Many many children were taken from where they lived, which was usually in their traditional areas/camps and flown to the new community to go to school. In these towns there were residences set up for them to live in because their families were far away. The families though are very very close knit and many moved to the communities to be with their children. With nothing to do in town, few jobs, lack of travel and Al-keehol brought up by the Kablunaks problems were inevitable.

Back to the schools though. They were pretty harsh, you've heard all of the stories about them, speaking native = a good whippin'...actually a good whippin seemed to be the way to keep these kids obedient. The residental schools have scarred people there with their bad expieriences and many have gone downhill because of it. There are a rare few though that took the expierience to fight the good fight and make things better for their people. These are the ones that negotiated for the formation of Nunavut and work in Management level in the communities and teach culture at the schools.

The residences are still there too, but are thankfully not run by missionaries anymore. I attended my grade 9 at the residence in Cambridge Bay. The kids living there were mostly from Umingmuktoq which only went up to grade 5, and the couple running a place were inuks from Cambridge and they were great. (no beatings)

For high school, everybody in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut that had to go to high school went to two more residential halls. One in Yellowknife (Akaitcho Hall) and one in Inuvik (Groiler Hall). I had to attend Akaitcho for those years and again by this time there were none of the nuns and it was also well run. The only problems that effected the students the most there was homesickness...and that alcohol was accessable. (most other communities in the north are dry towns), But it was the homesickness that made many students leave school to go back home. Akaticho was active until 1995/96 so it's only in very recent history that the actual residences of the north stopped functioning.

The problems faced nowadays as buddy with the article mentioned, that yes the problems exist, throwing money at it won't make it go away. Using money effectivley to help families grow with opportunities is what's needed. 40 years ago the residential schools destroyed close familiy units. Alcohol was also a catalyst to the problem to, but it was intentionally distributed and sold to the natives for many years before people started trying to control the illegal liquor trade. With those happenings in place there were up to 4 generations of people who have had to grow up with bad expieriences. The color of the skin doesn't make a lick of difference. If we Fuc*ed up a whole isolated community of white people and made growing up, and surviving for them just as difficult, they would be expieriencing the same problems.

In the end, there are changes being made up there but it will still take awhile to undo the damage wrought to the mindset of a people who have had to live a very hard life for a very long time.
Who ever came up with the idea of residentals schools in the first place?? A perfect example of what happens when you have the church mixing with government.
Reverend Blair
This column is yet another glimpse into the intolerance and stupidity of radical right in this country. We created a problem with our policies and the Conservative solution is to do more of the same.

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